Matt Moulson is entering Ville Leino territory.
That’s a harsh, cold reality for the underperforming Buffalo Sabres forward.
Moulson has not scored a goal since Nov. 1. That’s 36 games ago – 35 of which Moulson has taken the ice.
“I don’t like where his game’s been at,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Friday, cutting right to the chase. “But we’re in a situation tonight where we’re going to give him a chance to get his game back to where it can be – where it needs to be for us.”
Because of an upper-body injury to Sam Reinhart, the Sabres juggled their forward lines. Moulson joined center Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane on the top line for Friday night’s 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at First Niagara Center.
Despite getting 11 minutes, 58 seconds of ice time – just the second time in the past eight games he’s seen more than 10 minutes – Moulson was held scoreless again. He has just four goals in a season in which he’ll earn $5 million.
Moulson did have a good scoring chance in the first period when he parked himself in front of Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek, but his attempted tip went wide.
“That’s where he needs to be for him to be successful and add to our team,” Bylsma said. “And he was there for a few opportunities. But at the end of the day, we played a lot of defense. Matt was a part of playing that defense. We played the majority of the game in the defensive zone and that line couldn’t get us out to the other end.”
Moulson didn’t last the entire game with O’Reilly and Kane. By the third period, Bylsma put those two with rookie Jack Eichel.
A stoic Moulson spoke before the game, but didn’t shed much light on what’s causing his struggles.
“All you can do is put in the work and hopefully it pays off,” he said. “I’ve been working, trying to improve every day and you just have to transfer that over to the game. ... I think that’s all I’ve been trying to concentrate on, personally, the last little bit and you can’t really let your mind get too mixed up in the other things.”
Bylsma has made Moulson a healthy scratch once this season, but that option is pretty much gone for now because of the thinning forward ranks. Reinhart, who was hurt Wednesday against Colorado, is expected to be out for a week, while Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons also remain out. The only hope is that Moulson, who is in the second season of a five-year, $25 million contract, can somehow break out of his season-long slump.
“Just got to play my game and continue to work,” Moulson said. “Just getting to the net and making plays. Make sure I’m controlling the puck, especially in their zone. Make sure I’m moving my feet.”
The Sabres didn’t ease Cal O’Reilly into their lineup Friday night.
Fresh off being called up from Rochester, he started on a line with Eichel and winger Jamie McGinn.
He skated 13:46, finishing with a minus-1.
“He’s really a versatile player,” Bylsma said before the game. “He could see himself at a wing position and playing center as well. He’s a guy you feel confident playing ... in any situation.”
O’Reilly replaced Reinhart on the Sabres’ roster. To make room for O’Reilly, the Sabres placed Girgensons on injured reserve. He’s missed the past three games with an upper-body injury.
O’Reilly played in a pair of games for the Sabres in December, registering one assist.
“He’s a skilled player,” Bylsma said. “He has the ability to control the puck. We saw that last game he was with us, 5 on 5. He made three really good plays and one ended up in Jake McCabe’s goal.”
O’Reilly leads the Amerks with 19 assists in 35 games.
“I left feeling pretty good the last time I was up,” he said of his brief stint with the Sabres. “I just want to come here and build off that. As much ice time as I get, contribute and show them I can play, and get better and better.”
The Sabres flew home overnight after their loss to Colorado. Bylsma, however, disputed that the team was fatigued.
“I don’t attribute any of this game to that at all,” he said. “We pretty much handed them the puck tonight with our execution and gave them opportunities to play in the offensive zone with how we executed. That is all on us. It’s not on anything to do with travel or who may be in or out of the lineup.”
Captain Brian Gionta, who had the Sabres’ best scoring chance in the second period, agreed.
“I don’t think it was as much legs as it was execution,” he said. “We just weren’t making passes. We weren’t supporting each other. We played ‘D’ a lot, and so then you look slow when you’re playing ‘D.’ ”
Two players who likely were tired after the game?
Defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian. They each skated 28:15 – a season high for Bogosian and in the top four for Ristolainen on the season.